A Guide for Camping in Sri Lanka
Going on holiday into the middle of a jungle without electricity, running water or even sanitation facilities may not seem ideal to many people. However, we know that there are a number of you who can overlook the lack of facilities for the opportunity to truly connect with the great outdoors. Sri Lanka has 22 national parks, some of which are great to camp in. Here is everything you need to know when planning a wilderness retreat in Sri Lanka.
Where & When
Many of Sri Lanka’s national parks have allocated campsites, but keep in mind that campsites within the park generally mean a cleared expanse of land near a river or stream within the forest. Do not expect many facilities and amenities. Sanitation facilities will be close to non-existent. If you do not want to get so up close and personal with nature, we suggest that you opt for one of the government-owned bungalows within the park. They are still pretty rustic, but do have some basic facilities.
Here are some of the best places to camp.
Yala National Park
Yala is definitely Sri Lanka’s most famous national park. Found on the south of the island, this park hugs the golden beach and is made up of thick shrub-jungle. The park holds many interesting species of flora and fauna, but its most alluring inhabitants are Sri Lanka’s ‘Big Three’; elephants, leopards and sloth bears. Despite this, the most interesting part of this experience is the fact that you will be staying in the heart of the wilderness and it is just as exciting to spot endemic birds or track animals with the help of your park ranger.
- Best time to visit: January – May.
- Highlights: Eventful game drives, endless bird-watching opportunities, a visit to Sithulpawwa, an ancient Buddhist monastery.
Wilpattu National Park
Wilpattu is one of the most unique and dense national parks. The park gets its name from the many ‘willus’ within the park, which are small tanks or lakes and can be widely found throughout the park. This verdant jungle is a biodiversity hotspot and you will spot a number of animals including elephants and leopards, but its main attraction is the thick ancient forest.
- Best time to visit: February – October.
- Highlights: The park is home to many endangered animals, but interestingly, it is also believed that this region is where the first monarchy of Sri Lanka was established.
Gal Oya National Park
Gal Oya is often overshadowed by Yala and Wilpattu, but this massive park has a certain charm which you will not find anywhere else. The park was originally created to be one of the main catchment areas for the Senanayake reservoir, and because of this, you can choose to camp in two different areas; Iginiyagala, which is close to the reservoir, and Nilgala which is on one of the park’s mountains.
- Best time to visit: February – September.
- Highlights: Going on a boat and jeep safari, and meeting Sri Lanka’s indigenous people- the Veddahs.
Udawalawe National Park
Udawalawe is famed for being home to the largest population of wild elephants in the country and for attracting a wide variety of migratory birds. This idyllic park is found in the Uva Province and is surrounded by lush greenery. Udawalawe is often considered to be the best park for game drives as it has large open grasslands.
- Best time to visit: March – September.
- Highlights: The 250 elephants and the chance of spotting other animals like the elusive leopard.
Horton Plains National Park
Found in the central highlands of Sri Lanka, Horton Plains National Park is one of the most interesting parks in Sri Lanka. Horton Plains is made up of lush montane grasslands and tropical cloud forests which are unique to the region. Camping here is an exciting experience, purely for the beautiful landscape. You may not spot as many animals here as you would at other parks, but you will still see plenty of deer and sambar. Even though leopards dwell deep in the forests, it is very unlikely that you will be able to spot one.
- Best time to visit: December – April
- Highlights: World’s End and Baker’s Falls.
Knuckles Mountain Range
Knuckles is considered to be Sri Lanka’s premier hiking destination. This UNESCO World Heritage Site consists of 34 cloud forest-covered mountains and is a treasure trove for endemic fauna and flora. This is Sri Lanka’s hill country at its finest and it is one of the most untouched corners of the island. It is the perfect location if you are looking for a way to get away from city life.
- Best time to visit: June – September.
- Highlights: Interesting hiking trails and cascading waterfalls.
What to Pack
If you choose to camp inside a national park then you will need to bring everything with you, from tents to bedding and food. Here is a tip: try and rent a tent in Colombo as it is unlikely that you will find a place to rent tents close to the park. There aren’t any specific types of clothes you need to pack, but it is recommended that you have a pair of long pants and sneakers with you. Also, if you choose to go camping in Knuckles or Horton Plains, keep in mind that it can get quite chilly here so it is best to pack a sweater or a jacket. These montane areas can also have quite a lot of leeches, so please take some leech socks!
Jeeps and Guides
Jeeps are the best way to see the parks’ inhabitants. You will be able to hire a 4wd jeep and a driver at the park gate, but you can also pre-book jeeps from private tour operators. When you enter the park, you will be accompanied by a ranger/guide, this will ensure you and your friends will be able to learn more about your campsite and the necessary jungle etiquette.
Things to Keep in Mind
Ultimately, you are going into the heart of the wilderness, so you must be respectful. Ensure you do not litter or leave any trash behind. It is preferred if you do not carry any plastic items with you, and if you do, ensure that you do not leave it behind. Always be respectful of the animals and the surroundings, don not invade these creatures’ space. If you stick to these guidelines then you are sure to have a fun trip.
It is advisable to book your camping experience through a tour operator to ensure minimal challenges.